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Assessing Resilience: The Resilience at Work Assessment (RAWA)

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Lisa is an executive in a staffing company and has had three direct managers in the span of eight months due to corporate restructuring. Each manager brought a different set of expectations for how Lisa needed to do her job.  One manager was a “micro manager” who questions every move she made.  The next manager was more “hands off,” leading Lisa to wonder if she was doing the job properly.  Once she started to report to her third manager, her direct reports began to complain about Lisa and her inconsistency.  They said she was alternately frantically criticizing them and then would leave them alone for weeks at a time.  They didn’t know where they stood.  Lisa took this feedback very hard.  She has a strong need to do the best she can for her organization and gets down on herself when she is not “the best.” She began to tell herself a story that she may not be right for this job.  She began to tell herself that maybe she shouldn’t be a leader.  If someone needed to tap into her resilience, it was Lisa.

The Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition defines resilience as, “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Reivich and Shatte identify four uses for resilience. Many individuals must call on their reserves of resilience to overcome the negative experiences of their childhood.  Abuse, divorce, poverty, and neglect can weigh heavy on those who have experienced any of them during childhood.  Resilience helps to contain the damage of these experiences and help the individual live the life they want.  Resilience also helps us steer through the everyday stresses and hassles that fill modern life.  A third use of resilience is to help us bounce back from adverse events such as job loss, divorce, a death in the family.  We can become either helpless or resigned to our fate or can use our internal resources to bounce back.  Finally, resilience helps us reach out into the world and find renewed purpose and meaning in life.  This allows us to achieve what we are capable of.

Martin Seligman, in Learned Optimism (1990) determined that resilience skills can be learned.  While we cannot change the events of our past or the world around us, we can change the way we think about those events.  One of the ways we can start changing our resilience mindset is to be more realistic in our thinking.  By accurately assessing one’s own strengths, identifying the true causes of problems and evaluating oneself and others, we get a truer picture of the events unfolding around us and our level of control over those events.

We all need resilience, but leaders in particular need to understand how resilience – or change-readiness – can make them and their organizations successful over time. Leaders need to understand how to develop resilience in their teams and in their organizations as well as cultivating their own ability to bounce back from change and challenge.

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